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In the Beginning: the First Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, 1962: The Russians are coming

Soviet contingent

The "Russians" in the first Van Cliburn International Piano Competition actually came from different parts of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or U.S.S.R.  While the majority viewed these young pianists with affection and admiration - sentiments returned by the Soviets - hints of Cold War tension occasionally surfaced.

The Soviets, gifts and American-style shopping

Soviet pianists also received gifts.  In the photo above Van Cliburn gives Mikhail Voskresenski, a friend since the Tchaikovsky Competition, a cowboy statuette (Van Cliburn Arrives for Opening).

Russia Comes to Fort Worth and ...Gifts are part of the Fort Worth Press Scrapbook featuring the 1962 competition, along with other articles of interest.

Why Worry About Cuba Arms?, right, lists a few more gifts given by Soviet pianists to their hosts.

Gift-giving aside, shopping was a hit with guests from the U.S.S.R. (Korth, Hume, right; Soviet Pianists Spend, below).

No crisis - but some controversy

It was mistakenly thought that the Soviet pianists would have to stay in a hotel rather than host residences, like the other contestants (No East-West Crisis; Russia Comes to Fort Worth).  That notion was quickly dispelled, and a happy exchange of cultures took place.  A comment by pianist Mikhail Voskresenski, however, may have unnerved Americans, whose children practiced "duck and cover" drills in school (Why Worry About Cuba Arms?).


Along with other stories in Korth, Hume Helped Grace Lankford... is a reference to some hate-mail received by Lankford that certainly reflected Cold War angst. 

That same founding year, Grace Lankford received huge quantities of mail on every subject related to the competition.  While most of it was supportive and friendly, there was a small amount, probably inevitable, of hate mail, including one unsigned letter that said, "If a Russian wins this contest, you are dead!"

Shopping paradise